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Fairy Tales in Italy and France: Fairy Tales Elements

French and Italian fairy tales written between 1550 and 1750: connections to each other and to contemporary fairy tales literature, film, and the arts

General Principles in Fairy Tales


Fairy tales are usually short stories connected to countries' oral traditions. The tales may have a hero, heroine, or characters who must overcome wrongdoing of some kind and are in juxtaposition to an evil character. Also, fairy tales often have a moral message, and their stories may have magical and supernatural elements.

Image shows an illustration by Gustave Doré, originally published in 1862 from Sleeping Beauty. The Prince is walking into Sleeping Beauty's palace.

Sol, Luna y Talía. Illustration by Gustavo Doré. Public domain image. In the Giambattista Basile tale, a king rapes the sleeping Talia, who becomes pregnant with Sol and Luna. 

Characters: Good VS. Evil

Fairy tales usually have primary and secondary characters representing good and evil. These characters embody the villains, the adversaries, the heroes, the friends, the morals, the obstacles, and the supernatural elements. Characters may also be magical creatures, animals, nature, and enchanted objects.

Among the characters we may find:

  • Heroines and heroes
  • the idealized woman
  • The idealized man 
  • Damsel in distress
  • the mentor
  • The noble and honorable
  • The missing parent
  • The orphan
  • The antagonists: ogres, witches, envious family members, the greedy, the resentful, the misunderstood, and other malicious characters that are so by means so curse or individual circumstances.

Image shows an illustration by Anne Anderson from Little Briar Rose. A witch is using a spinning wheel and a girl with long blond hair is about to touch this wheel.

Briar Rose Illustrated by Anne Anderson. Public domain image.


Symbolism is an essential element in fairy tales. Cinderella's glass slipper, the nose of Pinocchio, the mirror that looks at the inner self in Snow White, the boundaries represented in the enchanted forests, the number three,  birds as messengers, the clothing and shoes in Puss in Boots, Cinderella, and Little Tom Thumb are a few examples of the element of symbolism present in this genre.

Symbolism is seen in:

  • Overcoming challenges
  • Making good or poor choices
  • Societal views on manliness, femininity, integrity, vileness, honorable behavior
  • Inner knowledge
  • social structures 
  • The moral connotation
  • The rule of three
  • The tree
  • the depiction of women
  • Gender stereotypes


Image shows Marlinchen mourning the loss over her stepbrother while a bird emerges from the juniper tree. Illustration by Louis R. Head.

Marlinchen mourning the loss over her stepbrother whilst a bird emerges from the juniper tree.; Illustration by Louis R. Head. Public domain image.

Transforming Our Understanding of Fairy Tales


Photo called "the real Geppetto." Shows a man working on his studio and several Pinocchio figures made out of wood.

TEDxWayneStateU by Anne Duggan, Professor of Fairy-Tale studies. Imaged used under the Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0).

Marina Warner in Conversation on Fairytales


Color illustration of CInderella taken from a book of German fairy tales called Märchenbuch c1919.

Warner discusses Jung, Cinderella and the figure of the wicked stepmother. Presented by The University of Sheffield. Public Domain image.